Monday 26 July 2010

Marriage equality for LGBT people

Tony Baldry MP, the Second Church Estates Commission spoke on Saturday morning in the General Synod debate about women in the episcopacy. It will be his task to steer the legislation through the House of Commons. He said the equality agenda now played strongly across all parties, and the difficult task of steering through the legislation would be impossible “if there is a scintilla of a suggestion that women bishops are in some way second-class bishops”.

On Saturday afternoon Robert Key, the former MP for Salisbury, spoke following the vote against the Archbishops’ amendment, when a number of speakers asked for the debate to be suspended until Monday or for a 10 minute break, to enable people to recover emotionally from the trauma of the loss. Robert effectively told Synod to grow up, behave like adults and get on with it (which Synod did, though some found behaving more like adults rather difficult).

Both Tony Baldry and Robert Key were criticised following their speeches. They were told in a very forthright manner that parliament wasn’t going to be allowed to dictate to the church as to what it should believe or who it should ordain. Church knew better than Parliament the will and mind of God.

What I found most disturbing was the passion and length of applause from Synod following the criticism. I was frightened by the arrogant, self-satisfied tone of righteousness and absolute rightness that was present. It felt as if the majority of Synod were applauding, though I didn’t think to look and check how many were actually clapping.

Tomorrow afternoon I’m attending the discussion about the next stage for civil partnerships at the Home Office at the invitation of Lynne Featherstone MP, the Minister for Equalities. Clearly, many members of General Synod would be critical of this initiative for a variety reasons, not least of which would be that they think God speaks and acts through General Synod and not through government initiatives, especially in relationship to gay marriage.

Last week, I said that I expect to meet people with far more understanding of the place of LGBT people in the Kingdom of God than many of those Christians who hold such strong views about homosexuality. I think that tomorrow, God is much more likely to be breaking into our lives and breaking out of the traps the church sets for God. It’s the dynamic which James Alison describes in Broken Hearts and New Creations and Raising Abel (both books which I wholeheartedly recommend!).

The government is grasping what the church cannot and what LGBT people often are afraid to grasp – the nettle of absolutely equality in marriage. Marriage is not a heterosexual institution and lesbian and gay people are not in a different category from straight people, nor are we unworthy of marriage.

The government is helping many of us, lesbian, gay, heterosexual, bisexual, transgender, evangelical, catholic, Christian, agnostic, atheist, see something about the nature of marriage which we have found difficult to recognise.

James Alison asks whether:
“Our sexual desire is something in need of a process of humanisation so that it can be part of a relationship of bodily presence to another, tending to build the partner up, enrich and delight them as well as care for them, tend to them and be stretched into age and death alongside them ... a process of bodily involvement with another that we have found ourselves being sucked into being given a self we did not know, but rejoice to see as something we are becoming, something holy.”

God is present in potential everywhere, contrary to the idea about God held by a significant number of General Synod members. God works unseen and unacknowledged in the lives of every human being, and can mysteriously draw us together through love into relationships and encounters which can themselves become processes of transformation, growth and change.

Thanks to those of you who responded to last week’s blog and made the point so forcibly to me. I will be arguing for full equality at tomorrow’s meeting. I have no doubt that full equality is what God knows is right and proper for all people, and that includes lesbian and gay Christians.

Colin Coward

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